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Sun, JBoss Bury Hatchet on J2EE Spat

After refusing to pay Sun Microsystems licensing fees for its Java test certification kit, open source consultancy JBoss Group has buried the hatchet and ponied up in order to gain a J2EE certification.

The two companies had been involved in a long-running, acrimonious debate over licensing fees for the JBoss application server software. After calling off talks earlier this year, the two companies finally got back to the negotiating table in June, which led to today's agreement.

JBoss Group officials said the deal was deliberately timed to coincide with Sun's overall marketing strategy to tout the inclusiveness of the Java community as it announced the approval of J2EE v1.4 Tuesday afternoon. The new specification will be available as a free download here Monday.

The agreement helps end a long-running spat between Sun -- which controls the J2EE compatibility program -- and JBoss Group CEO Marc Fleury. Fleury has said before that his company, which provides consulting and implementation services around the JBoss open-source application server software, is an open-source entity and shouldn't have to pay for the six-digit licensing fee.

Negotiators at Sun have since the beginning maintained JBoss Group is a for-profit organization and doesn't qualify for open source exemptions. Tuesday's announcement is something of a flip-flip, then, and vindication for JBoss Group since Sun has now openly acknowledged them as an open source organization.

With Sun's Java test certification kit (JCK) now in hand, JBoss Group becomes one of the last major vendors in the industry that is now on board with J2EE compatibility. The certification could help JBoss overcome reluctance it could face with potential customers over its lack of J2EE compliance sticker.

JBoss agreed to pay the full licensing fee for a standalone TCK that comes with branding and support contracts. The contracts are in place so companies don't market their applications before certifying it through the test kit.

But JBoss gave no signal that all would be rosy between the two companies going forward. JBoss executives feel Sun has been holding off on signing the TCK for months to coincide with the release of J2EE 1.4, which Sun plans to announce later today.

"I can't imagine another reason, maybe they wanted to have their reference implementation out first; I have no idea," said Bob Bickel, JBoss Group vice president of strategy and corporate development.

"We're going to move forward -- the whole idea is to get commonality across J2EE and make it easier for people to move (it), and I think that it really plays towards our strengths."

The deal also brings one of the last holdouts into the Java Community Process (JCP), a community where developers and companies work to make new Java applications compatible.

While the JBoss Group has had employees as members for years, and even officially joined the JCP back in September, its exclusion from full J2EE compatibility was seen as a dissenting voice within the Java community.

Many developers want a unified Java voice in order to compete against Microsoft's .NET Web services framework.

But the JBoss Group's most compelling reason for signing a deal with Sun is being able to stamp a "fully J2EE compliant" sticker on its software to entice enterprise IT managers to switch to the open-source application server.

Now that the two are, at least for the time being, on the same team, the question is will they play well together? The long term benefits for the two companies are really quite limited, said John Meyer, Giga Research analyst.

"For JBoss it will legitimize what it is they have done and I think for Sun it should hopefully alleviate some of the pain relative to organizations wondering about the clout that the JCP has," he said.

"Long term is it going to change much? I don't think so," he said. "At least what this shows is that the majority of the vendors that are in place are in alignment with the fact that there needs to be consortium and I think JBoss was the last one hanging out there."

When asked whether past events between Sun and JBoss Group now in the past Bickel laughed. "Water under the bridge? We're always friends, we just disagree."

JBoss is one of two major "open source" development houses certifying the new J2EE version. Sun also announced Tuesday the inclusion of the Apache Software Foundation, which just started development on its own application server software under the Apache Geronimo project. The project isn't expected to be completed until sometime next year.

Geronimo would compete against JBoss' own application server, as well as those created by proprietary software vendors. Sun itself is getting into the free application server software race, and will include a developer's version of Sun's Java System Application Server 8 Platform Edition with the J2EE v1.4 download

Updates prior version to remove incorrect licensing fee